Most jobs that involve thinking for a living require some form of writing, even if only to produce the occasional report, proposal, memo or email or to communicate through social media. Yet so many individuals battle to express themselves in the written word.
High on the list of problems is lack of attention to detail, sentences that only make sense to the writer, not getting to the point before the reader dies of boredom and spokesperson quotes that go on forever and lose their impact.
The reader should be the centre of the universe
Then there is the preamble at the beginning of sentences instead of getting to the point, the tendency to go into too much detail or over explain and trying to be too clever with words. On this last point, novelist Stephen King once said,
“People use smart words because they are a little bit ashamed of their simple ones.”
Many aspiring writers will also admit that they pay little consideration to what the reader is interested in hearing as opposed to what they want to tell them.
When I explain to those attending my writing workshop sessions why the reader should be the centre of their universe at all times, it is like an ‘Aha moment’, as Oprah might say. A writer who is only interested in what they have to say cannot expect anyone else to be interested in reading what they have written.
Rich content that is meaningful
Having rich content that is meaningful to the reader is just as important as word usage and grammatical accuracy, and so is the ability to tell a good story. It is also vital for writers to understand the topic they are writing about, otherwise, it will be obvious to the reader that they do not.
These are just some examples of the long list of writing problems that are common across the board, from communications and marketing people to secretaries, administrators, lawyers and other professionals to top executives at all levels of expertise and intellect.
Many of these challenges follow through from verbal miscommunication, whereby the first mistake we make is to assume that the information we are imparting is being received as we intended it to be.
Meanwhile, the recipient is filtering the information, based on his or her own views, biases and perceptions that are buzzing around in their heads. These include thoughts like, “I know more about this than you do.” or “I don’t have a clue what you’re saying, but there’s no way I am going to admit it.”
Filling the gaps with your own assumptions
Perhaps even worse, they are only listening to reply with their own opinion as soon as you stop for breath. As George Bernard Shaw put it,
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
When someone is reading an article or any other written content and the information is incomplete, they will invariably fill in the gaps with their own assumptions, because that is how the human brain works. So, it is important to create a complete picture in the reader’s mind and not a broken jigsaw puzzle that leaves room for speculation.
While discussing and editing participants’ writing samples during my sessions and we come across sentences that do not make sense, I will ask the writer, “What exactly do you mean by that?” Then when they verbalise what they were trying to say, it usually makes perfect sense, and I get them to write it down while it is fresh in their minds.
Media training helps spokespeople build and hone their skills to enable them to interact with journalists and other media interviewers more effectively and get the best coverage possible. Unfortunately, all too often, spokespeople view the media as the enemy that is out to get them, instead of acquiring skills to exploit the opportunity to get optimum media coverage and avoid the risks of negative exposure.
Jennigay Coetzer 20 Sep 2010
This helps individuals to be more spontaneous with their writing, get to the point quickly and confidently without preamble and avoid writers’ block. The more techniques like this become entrenched in a writer’s mind, the more skilled they will become and the more confident they will be.